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Tokyo Olympics: It’s a TV Games for fans in Japan

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It was both a moment of pride and heartbreak for Japan. Their favourite women’s softball team opened the action at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday with a victory over Australia, but all that the team’s partisan fans could do was watch the action on TV. The stadium in Fukushima was starkly empty.

Yoshitsugu Hashimoto, 65, who lives right across the stadium, watched the match on TV at home.

“I missed the loud cheers of spectators that I used to hear whenever ball games were held at the stadium. But I believe people in Fukushima are encouraged by the athletes’ performance,” Hashimoto was quoted by Kyodo News.

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And that’s how the home Olympics will unfold for the Japanese public, switching on a screen to watch the Games happening in their backyard. The Tokyo Organising Committee is holding the Olympics without spectators because of fear of Covid-19 infections.

Instead of spending on tickets for events, the Japanese are splurging on new TV sets. Manufacturers are luring customers with cutting edge-models bigger than 50 inches, offering high quality sound systems and high-definition images. The big TV companies in Japan–BIC Camera, Nojima, Yodobashi Camera and Panasonic–are reporting sharp increase in sales.

“Sales of TVs are stronger than last year,” a spokesperson of Bic Camera said to Japan Times.

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Sales for BIC Camera started rising in May and there was a surge in June when speculation started that the Olympics could be held behind closed stadiums. By July when the IOC finally declared the Games will be spectator-free, TV sales rose again.

Nojima Corp TV sales in the week to last Sunday increased by 20 percent from a year earlier and sales at Yodobashi camera were over two-fold from January to June.

“We have no choice but to watch all the action unfolding on TV,” said Isao Shigeno, a volunteer. “It is disappointing that we are not able to go to the stadiums but that’s how the situation is right now.”

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At the Fukushima stadium, Japan’s softball team lived up to the billing, beating Australia 8-1. The four-time Olympic gold winning team became a rage in Japan when they won the 2008 Beijing Olympic title beating USA, only for the sport to be dropped for the next two editions of the Games.

Pitcher Yukiko Ueno, a top star from the team that won the 2008 gold, is still playing and Japanese fans were eagerly looking forward to her taking the field again at the Olympics. It was not to be. The moment was more poignant for residents of Fukushima in northeastern Japan. The prefecture was ravaged during the 2011 earthquake which led to the deadliest nuclear reactor accident since Chernobyl in 1986. One theme of the Tokyo Olympics was to show how Fukushima has bounced back from the disaster.

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